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Rev Horton





It has sometimes seemed to me that God does not intend the faith in
prayer to rest upon an induction of instances. The answers, however
explicit, are not of the kind to bear down an aggressive criticism. Your
Christian lives a life which is an unbroken chain of prayers offered and
prayers answered; from his inward view the demonstration is
overwhelming. But do you ask for the evidences, and do you propose to
begin to pray if the facts are convincing, and to refuse the practice if
they are not? Then you may find the evidences evanescent as an evening
cloud, and the facts all susceptible of a simple rationalistic
explanation. "Prayer," says an old Jewish mystic, "is the moment when
heaven and earth kiss each other." It is futile as well as indelicate to
disturb that rapturous meeting; and nothing can be brought away from
such an intrusion, nothing of any value except the resolve to make trial
for oneself of the "mystic sweet communion."

I confess, therefore, that I read examples of answers to prayer without
any great interest, and refer to those I have experienced myself with
the utmost diffidence. Nay, I say frankly beforehand, "If you are
concerned to disprove my statement, and to show that what I take for the
hand of God is merely the cold operation of natural law, I shall only
smile. My own conviction will be unchanged. I do not make that great
distinction between the hand of God and natural law, and I have no wish
to induce you to pray by an accumulation of facts--to commend to you the
mighty secret by showing that it would be profitable to you, a kind of
Aladdin's lamp for fulfilling wayward desires. Natural law, the hand of
God! Yes! I unquestioningly admit that the answers to prayer come
generally along lines which we recognise as natural law, and would
perhaps always be found along those lines if our knowledge of natural
law were complete. Prayer is to me the quick and instant recognition
that all law is God's will, and all nature is in God's hand, and that
all our welfare lies in linking ourselves with His will and placing
ourselves in His hand through all the operations of the world and life
and time."

Yet I will mention a few "answers to prayer," striking enough to me. One
Sunday morning a message came to me before the service from an agonised
mother: "Pray for my child: the doctor has been and gives no hope." We
prayed, the church prayed, with the mother's agony, and with the faith
in a present Christ, mighty to save. Next day, I learned that the doctor
who had given the message of despair in the morning had returned, after
the service, and said at once, "A remarkable change has taken place."
The child recovered and still lives.

On another occasion, I was summoned from my study to see a girl who was
dying of acute peritonitis. I hurried away to the chamber of death. The
doctor said that he could do nothing more. The mother stood there
weeping. The girl had passed beyond the point of recognition. But as I
entered the room, a conviction seized me that the sentence of death had
not gone out against her. I proposed that we should kneel down and pray.
I asked definitely that she should be restored. I left the home, and
learned afterwards that she began to amend almost, at once, and entirely
recovered; she is now quite strong and well, and doing her share of
service for our Lord.

And on yet another occasion I was hastily called from my study to see an
elderly man, who had always been delicate since I knew him; now he was
prostrated with bronchitis, and the doctor did not think that he could
live. It chanced that I had just been studying the passage which
contains the prayer of Hezekiah and the promise made to him of fourteen
additional years of life. I went to the sick man and told him that I had
just been reading this, and asked if it might not be a ground for
definite prayer. He assented, and we entreated our God for His mercy in
the matter. The man was restored and is living still.

These are only typical instances of what I have frequently seen. Many
times, no doubt, I have prayed for the recovery of the sick and the
prayer has not been answered. And you, dear and skeptical reader, may
say if you will that this is proof positive that the instances of
answered prayers are mere coincidences. You may say it and, if you will,
prove it, but you will not in the least alter my quiet conviction; for
the answers were given to me. I do not know that even the subjects of
these recoveries recognise the agency which was at work. To me all this
is immaterial. The subjective evidence is all that was designed, and
that is sufficient, and to the writer conclusive.

With reference to money for Christian work, I have laboured to induce my
own church to adopt the simple view that we should ask not men, but in
the first instance God, the owner of it all, for what we want. I am
thankful to say that some of them now believe this, and bring our needs
to Him very simply and trustfully. I could name many instances of the
following kind: there is a threatened deficit in the funds of the
mission, or an extension is needed and we have not the money. The sound
of misgiving is heard; we have not the givers; the givers have given all
they can. "Why not trust God?" I have urged. "Why not pray openly and
unitedly--and believe?" The black cloud of debt has been dissipated, or
the necessary extension has been made.

Oddly enough, some people have said to me, "Ah, yours is a rich church,"
as if to imply one can very safely ask God for money when one has the
people at hand who can give it. But surely this is a question of degree.
My church is not rich enough to give one-tenth of what it gives, if we
did not first ask God for it. And there are churches which could give
ten times what they do give, if only the plan were adopted of first
asking God instead of going to the few wealthy people and trusting to
them.

But this is a matter of statistics and a little wearisome. I confess I
am unsatisfied with answers to prayer when the prayer is only for these
carnal and visible things, which are often, in boundless love and pity,
withheld. The constant and proper things to pray for are precisely
those the advent of which cannot be observed or tabulated; that the
kingdom may come, that they who have sinned, not unto death, may be
forgiven, that the eyes of Christian men may be enlightened, and their
hearts expanded to the measure of the love of Christ. Such prayers are
answered, but the answers are not unveiled. I remember a strange
instance of this. I was staying with a gentleman in a great town, where
the town council, of which he was a member, had just decided to close a
music-hall which was exercising a pernicious influence. The decision
was most unexpected, because a strong party in the council were directly
interested in the hall. But to my friend's amazement the men who had
threatened opposition came in and quietly voted for withdrawing the
licence. Next day we were speaking about modern miracles; he, the best
of men, expressed the opinion that miracles were confined to Bible
times. His wife then happened to mention how, on the day of that council
meeting, she and some other good women of the city had met and continued
in prayer that the licence might be withdrawn. I ventured to ask my
friend whether this was not the explanation of what he had confessed to
be an amazing change of front on the part of the opposition. And,
strange to say, it had not occurred to him--though an avowed believer in
prayer--to connect the praying women and that beneficent vote.

The truth is, all the threads of good which run across our chequered
society, all the impulses upward and onward, all the invisible growths
in goodness and grace, are answered prayers. For our prayers for the
kingdom are not uttered on the housetops; and the kingdom itself cometh
not with observation.

But if it were not too delicate a subject I could recite instances, to
me the most remarkable answers to prayer in my experience, of changed
character and enlarged Christian life, resulting from definite
intercession. It is an experiment which any loving and humble soul can
easily make. Take your friends, or better still the members of the
church to which you belong, and set yourself systematically to pray for
them. Leave alone those futile and often misguided petitions for
temporal blessings, or even for success in their work, and plead with
your God in the terms of that prayer with which Saint Paul bowed his
knees for the Ephesians. Ask that this person, or these persons, known
to you, may have the enlightenment and expansion of the Spirit, the
quickened love and zeal, the vision of God, the profound sympathy with
Christ, which form the true Christian life. Pray and watch, and as you
watch, still pray. And you will see a miracle, marvellous as the
springing of the flowers in April, or the far-off regular rise and
setting of the planets,--a miracle proceeding before your eyes, a plain
answer to your prayer, and yet without any intervention of your voice or
hand. You will see the mysterious power of God at work upon these souls
for which you pray. And by the subtle movements of the Spirit it is as
likely as not that they will come to tell you of the divine blessings
which have come to them in reply to your unknown prayers.

But there are some whose eyes are not yet open to these invisible things
of the Spirit, which are indeed the real things. The measure of faith is
not yet given them, and they do not recognise that web,--the only web
which will last when the loom of the world is broken,--the web of which
the warp is the will of God, and the woof the prayers of men. For these,
to speak of the whole as answered prayer is as good as to say that no
prayer is answered at all. If they are to recognise an answer it must be
some tiny pattern, a sprig of flower, or an ammonite figure on the
fabric. Let me close, therefore, by recounting a very simple answer to
prayer,--simple, and yet, I think I can show, significant.

Last summer I was in Norway, and one of the party was a lady who was too
delicate to attempt great mountain excursions, but found an infinite
compensation in rowing along those fringed shores of the fjord, and
exploring those interminable brakes, which escape the notice of the
passengers on board the steamer. One day we had followed a narrow fjord,
which winds into the folds of the mountains, to its head. There we had
landed and pushed our way through the brush of birch and alder, lost in
the mimic glades, emerging to climb miniature mountains, and fording
innumerable small rivers, which rushed down from the perpetual snows.
Moving slowly over the ground--veritable explorers of a virgin
forest--plucking the ruby bunches of wild raspberry, or the bilberries
and whortleberries, delicate in bloom, we made a devious track which it
was hard or impossible to retrace. Suddenly my companion found that her
golosh was gone. That might seem a slight loss and easily replaced; not
at all. It was as vital to her as his snowshoes were to Nansen on the
Polar drift; for it could not be replaced until we were back in Bergen
at the end of our tour. And to be without it meant an end of all the
delightful rambles in the spongy mosses and across the lilliputian
streams, which for one at least meant half the charm and the benefit of
the holiday. With the utmost diligence, therefore, we searched the
brake, retraced our steps, recalled each precipitous descent of
heather-covered rock, and every sapling of silver birch by which we had
steadied our steps. We plunged deep into all the apparently bottomless
crannies, and beat the brushwood along all our course. But neither the
owner's eyes, which are keen as needles, nor mine, which are not, could
discover any sign of the missing shoe. With woeful countenances we had
to give it up and start on our three miles' row along the fjord to the
hotel. But in the afternoon the idea came to me, "And why not ask our
gracious Father for guidance in this trifle as well as for all the
weightier things which we are constantly committing to His care? If the
hairs of our head are all numbered, why not also the shoes of our feet?"
I therefore asked Him that we might recover this lost golosh. And then I
proposed that we should row back to the place. How magnificent the
precipitous mountains and the far snow-fields looked that afternoon! How
insignificant our shallop, and our own imperceptible selves in that
majestic amphitheatre, and how trifling the whole episode might seem to
God! But the place was one where we had enjoyed many singular proofs of
the divine love which shaped the mountains but has also a particular
care for the emmets which nestle at their feet. And I was ashamed of
myself for ever doubting the particular care of an infinite love. When
we reached the end of the fjord and had lashed the boat to the shore, I
sprang on the rocks and went, I know not how or why, to one spot, not
far from the water, a spot which I should have said we had searched
again and again in the morning, and there lay the shoe before my eyes,
obvious, as if it had fallen from heaven!

I think I hear the cold laugh of prayerless men: "And that is the kind
of thing on which you rest your belief in prayer; a happy accident.
Well, if you are superstitious enough to attach any importance to that,
you would swallow anything!" And with a smile, not, I trust, scornful or
impatient, but full of quiet joy, I would reply: "Yes, if you will, that
is the kind of thing; a trifle rising to the surface from the depths of
a Father's love and compassion--those depths of God which you will not
sound contain marvels greater it is true; they are, however, ineffable,
for the things of the Spirit will only be known to men of the Spirit.
These trifles are all that can be uttered to those who will not search
and see; trifles indeed, for no sign shall be given to this generation;
which, if it will not prove the power of prayer by praying, shall not be
convinced by marshalled instances of the answers of prayer."





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